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Sly & Robbie Present the Taxi Gang

Hail Up the Taxi

Island Jamaica IJCD 3002

Perhaps it's just a function of the weather, but this sounds like hits from start to finish, a refreshing survey of contemporary Jamaican modes handled with Sly & Robbie's usual crisp efficiency. Released to celebrate their 21st anniversary as a rhythm section partnership, Hail Up the Taxi features singers and talkover DJs from both the roots and dancehall ends of the reggae spectrum, on tracks that demonstrate the limitless flexibility of the genre by re-casting older styles and songs in modern pop guises.

Some have already been hits: "Compliments on Your Kiss", one of a pair of reworked R&B/ doowop grooves featuring Red Dragon, reached the UK top five last year; others, like the sweet-voiced singers Ambelique and Red Rose, deserve to follow suit with their respective treatments of the same Sixties reggae horn figure. Beenie Man and Luciano's loose, rumbustious version of Marley's classic "Crazy Baldhead" theme introduces a terrific new pairing of dancehall DJ and roots singer, while the tougher talkover end of the genre is well catered for by Merciless's strutting "Easy & Cool" and Lieutenant Stitchie's rude automotive allegory "The Mechanic". Sweltering stuff.

Various Artists

Universal Sounds of America

Soul Jazz SJR CD27

At a time when the more flaccid "fusion" developments in Seventies jazz are being cited as significant influences upon latterday rap and soul music, it's an instructive contrast to recall the truly inspirational nature of some parts of the genre in that decade. Universal Sounds of America gathers together some splendid examples of the era's great space- jazz innovations, ranging from Pharoah Sanders's coolly reflective "Astral Travelling" to the quintessential electric-jazz interplay of fuzzy Farfisa organ and reeds in Steve Reid's "Lions of Judah".

There's barely a dull moment in the entire 68 minutes, regardless of whether those moments are occupied by David Durrah's synthesiser tone- poem miniatures or a 20-minute version of Sun Ra's theme tune "Space Is the Place". A particular triumph is The Art Ensemble of Chicago's "Theme De Yoyo", featuring Fontella Bass on vocals, an early Seventies groove which puts the whole soul/ jazz relationship into perspective: there's no dilution of the jazz impulse here, despite the need to follow a strong song format - the Ensemble bucks and plunges like a river, periodically threatening to burst its banks but always returning to the groove in the nick of time. A matter of discipline and imagination, not disco.

Fun Da Mental

With Intent to Pervert the Cause of Injustice!

Nation/ Beggars Banquet NATCD 56

An instrumental reworking by Aki Nawaz of Fun Da Mental's Seize the Time album, with the polemic replaced by 57 varieties of ethnic samples, With Intent to Pervert the Cause of Injustice! demonstrates how easily dub albums can slip into tedium. "Sin, In the Name of ..." opens proceedings with a typically Transglobal melange of didgeridoo, drums and chants - pleasant enough, but overlong. Three tracks later, and already one's grasping at the straw of a nice twittering-bird sample to sustain interest as the relentless, and relentlessly similar, rhythm tracks rattle along with barely any individuation.

The annotations do refer to individual ethnic elements on each track, but these are invariably swamped in the mix, ground into an undifferentiated one-world stodge. Matters aren't exactly helped by a sleevenote that includes a presumptuous insult to their simpatico white supporters, who apparently "must become traitors to become liberators of your people". Oh really? And which "people" might those be? Given such a patronising tone, it's hard to avoid the suspicion that the music might simply be patronising other peoples' cultures, too.

Various Artists

Bachology

EMI CDEMC 3715 Jazz chooses some strange bedfellows at times. Bachology is producer Tot Taylor's attempt to have "today's innovators" reinterpret Johann Sebastian in new ways, most of which turn out to be rather old-fashioned jazz modes: a Well-Tempered Klavier Prelude No 2 done as slinky Latin jazz; "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring" given an African high-life makeover; the Toccata & Fugue in D minor rendered in a cheesy computer/ synth setting - that kind of thing. It's clearly intended in the Hal Willner vein of ambitious tribute albums, but sadly lacks both the big star names and the sense of daring. A few tracks stand out: the quiet restraint of Ed Jones's "Poeme" works well with its source material (an aria from the B Minor Mass), and Maxston G Beesley's marimba arrangement of the Flute Sonata in C is ingenious - but overall the project tries to reinvent a wheel already worn down to the rim by the Swingle Singers.

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